The Loft Literary Center is dogged by a certain stereotype: its “typical student.”
She — yup, she’s female — is writing a memoir, or a thinly fictionalized version of her own life. It has been said that she favors Scandinavian sweaters, although if she’s especially wacky or on the board of a lot of organizations she’ll wear arty handmade clothes. She always brings a mug of tea — never coffee — to class. She lives in the suburbs and her kids are grown, and she tried scrapbooking and gardening, but she got sick of scraping glue and dirt out from under her nails, and then someone in her book group suggested a writing class.
“We’re aware of that perception, and it’s not that far off,” admits Kelly Ceynowa, education associate director at the Loft. “But we actually have writers from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds, and we’re always trying to expand our reach so that anyone who is interested in writing can come to us.”
In reality, that lady memoir writer is surrounded by teen poets, writers of color, urban and suburban writers, published or even famous writers, and even — oh my! — men in her Loft class. (Actually, says Ceynowa, occasionally a class fills entirely with male writers.)
The Loft, led by new executive director Jocelyn Hale, is trying to reach even deeper into unconventional communities of writers this fall with new initiatives. Notice the links, right on the Loft’s front page, leading to the organization’s Facebook and MySpace pages (the Loft is single, female and has 489 friends) — clearly campaigning for the youth vote here.
More egalitarian is the First Pages series, a new partnership between the Loft and the Hennepin County Libraries that will bring Loft writing classes to libraries throughout Hennepin County this fall. “We’re at capacity for classes at the Open Book space right now, and it’s our goal to move into the community more,” said Ceynowa.
A McKnight study identified suburban Hennepin County as a promising area for new arts education opportunities, and funds from the Friends of the Library made it a reality.
“If you believe that libraries are about lifelong learning, access to information, well, many would contend that writing is central to that,” said John Sugimura, program and special events manager at the Hennepin County Library.
The Loft and the library
Sugimura believes that First Pages is the first such program in the country. “Other libraries offer writing classes. They’ll hear that people want to write for business, or another topic, so they’ll bring in someone for a class. What we’re doing is a solid partnership with a premiere writing organization, and these will be very high-quality writing opportunities on all kinds of topics for all kinds of people.”
The free, hourlong classes won’t foster community (or competition) between writers or mentoring relationships — hallmarks of the true Loft experience. First Pages is Loft-lite compared to the heavy-commitment classes the Loft offers at the Open Book. But the instructors are the same, and enrollment will be limited to 17 participants, the Loft’s tried and true formula, according to Ceynowa.
“These are writing labs, to give you a glimpse of what it would be like to open up your brain and put something on a piece of paper,” says Sugimura.
This fall 27 classes are offered.
“We’ve leveled the playing field so that whoever wants it, can have it. Everyone has a story, whether they want to try to publish it, or put it quietly in a drawer for the next generation,” says Sugimura, who says that holding the classes at the public library will eliminate the intimidation factor raised by more formal, more expensive writing classes.
Topics include poetry, brainstorming, publishing, writing for people with disabilities, and writing for teens. There’s even a memoir class for people older than 55. Register now — no doubt that one will fill up fast.